Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2023: With successful launch last year, Emerging Artists initiative returns on an expanded scale

After last year’s successful launch of its Emerging Artists program for the Utah Arts Festival, Aimée Dunsmore, UAF’s executive director says UAF once again has opened the jury process to members of the community to help select artists and performers who will be in the festival this year. This year’s listings comprise perhaps the festival’s largest number of new faces since the event’s early years in the late 1970s going in the 1980s. 

The Emerging Artists program also institutionalizes broadly the experiences of newcomers to UAF and how their presence is adding to and reshaping the next chapters of Utah’s arts and cultural evolution. Incidentally, the second edition of the Emerging Artists program of visual artists from Utah will be present in the area between The Leonardo and the City Library. 

Some of the artists from the inaugural Emerging Artists initiative return as part of the festival’s juried slate. They include the locally based Carnaval de Barranquilla dance group, which presents one of Colombia’s most prominent cultural forms, which UNESCO has hailed as among the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. As noted last year in a feature published by The Utah Review. Carnaval is a lasting institution because its people pass their knowledge of it from generation to generation. Children take part in dance rehearsals, performances and parades. Education and family are important to the tradition. Carnaval is important to the economy. Artisans, shoemakers, designers, musicians, salespeople and business people depend on Carnaval as a significant source of revenue. Many public and private entities support the tradition.

Carnaval de Barranquilla, 2022, Utah Arts Festival.
Photo: Les Roka.

Last year: the group thrilled festival goers with dances that expressed social and political messages with sharp wit. They included a cumbia centering on a man courting a woman. The dance El Garabato represented a fight between life and death. An important character is the “marimonda’ from Barranquilla who represents a joke of the working class toward their elitist bosses and lazy government workers. The marimona is a caricature, a mixture of a monkey and an elephant. The West Valley brought 32 performers 

Others include AKASHAA (whom festival attendees will recognize as Ami Divine from last year’s event), one of several Las Vegas artists who made a fine splash at the 2022 festival. In Las Vegas, she perfected her poetic voice and delivery and others were encouraging her to take up singing and songwriting professionally. “I hesitated because I didn’t like how my voice sounded,” she said in an interview last year with The Utah Review. Her debut album Spells was released to excellent reviews. 

DuwopRose The Vinylist, AKASHAA, Tree Hill (left to right). Photo: Les Roka.

AKASHAA developed a deep appreciation for some of the 20th century’s greatest poets, especially in verse which celebrates love, the single most important muse in her work. One example is To Be in Love, a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer whose verse is best known for how it depicted her coming-of-age in her Chicago neighborhood. To Be in Love is a brilliant piece, opening with the joy of newfound love but it eventually becomes darker as the promises of that relationship shatter, all capture in the space of 31 lines of verse.

Another is Tree Hill, who sees the elegance of simplicity as vital to her lyrics and overall lyricism, reflecting back on the constructive counsel she received in her younger days as she worked toward perfecting her poetic voice. Thus, the spiritual codes that are embedded in tracks such as Jupiter become more accessible to the listener. Hill explained her artistry last year in an interview with The Utah Review. “Whenever thoughts become heavy and dark and there is a lot of noise interference, then it probably is not the truth and certainly not the individual’s truth,” she said. The sonic vibrations allow the individual to take the moment to breathe and ease into expanding and elevating themselves to the motivation of pushing through all forms of resistance and looking for their truths. Also returning is DJ DuwopRose The Vinylist, whom Hill said previously  is “the perfect DJ for an MC like me.” Hill added that the DJ facilitates the “profound transitions” between songs, working with effects that make it like the smoothest peanut butter.

This year’s Emerging Artists include 17 individuals, along with organizations such as The Leonardo, Art Access and The Salt Lake Eastern Art Club, which had a popular following at last month’s Living Traditions Festival in downtown Salt Lake City. The club specializes in Chinese calligraphy and painting.

Kian The One.

The slate includes singer-songwriter Aiden Barrick, who moved from St. George to Salt Lake City, and mixes folk rock with spoken word performance in his music catalog, which touches on his experiences as transitioning, among other topics. From Las Vegas,  a powerhouse destination for spoken word performance and slam poetry, Alaina Noelle brings her own brand of freestyle verse literary art, At The Round stage, there is Ambitious Romel, a singer from Banning, California, as well as Mike Styles, a Salt Lake City hip-hop artist. 

Kian The One, a Las Vegas artist, producer and multi-instrumentalist, specializes in analog synthesizers and the santur, ancient Persian version of the hammered dulcimer. He fuses Eastern musical traditions with spirituals, gospels and electronics to produce layered soundscapes that have psychedelic and mesmerizing textures. Other Emerging Artists performers at The Round will include Savannah Davis, a performance poet from Kearns, and Sonia Barcelona, a songwriter who was named Best of Las Vegas by the Las Vegas Weekly & Desert Companion. Fans of K-pop will enjoy TakeYourPick, a Salt Lake City cover group which choreographs dance to some of the best known songs of the genre.

Alaina Noelle.

Visual artists include Alexandria Ruckman (Hurricane, Utah, drawing), Anne-Marie Flanary (Vernal, Utah, drawing), Betty Q. Le (West Valley, Utah, jewelry, who works from the Dakatta concept of radiating from within oneself) and Dakota Jensen (Smithfield. Utah, digital and watercolor). Others include Molly Wireman, a Salt Lake City artist behind Dancing Dunes Ceramics, and Rose Torres, a Taylorsville, Utah botanical watercolor artist who highlights Utah’s wildflowers and native plants.

Diana Barnett (Farmington, Utah, painting and photography) started art lessons eight years ago to accompany her mother-in-law, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, who wanted to learn to paint before she died. Jadyn Neff, 17, a Salt Lake City digital artist, started drawing in traditional media at the age of 12 and then moved on to digital media during the pandemic.


Maria Elena Lowe, an indigenous Maya Tseltal from Chiapas who lives in West Valley, will demonstrate blackstrap loom weaving. 

For more information and tickets, download the Utah Arts Festival app for free, available to Android and iOS users. There also are links to the UAF’s standard website. 

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